The Minnesota Golden Gophers were able to set aside a horrid stretch of play midway through the second half and fend off a Peter Jok-led Iowa Hawkeye team in double overtime for a 101-89 victory at Williams Arena on Wednesday night.
The story of the game was one that is somewhat familiar to Gopher fans as they saw the home team jump out to a sizable 14-point lead, only to see it squandered away with some head-scratching decision-making and poor shot selection for a seven-minute span during the middle of the second half. The Fran McCaffrey installed press that the Gophers seemed perfectly able to break in the first and early portion of the second half all of a sudden became a suffocating Venus Fly trap of a defense with the likes of Dupree McBrayer, Akeem Springs, and Amir Coffey being the poor unsuspecting insects in this poorly composed metaphor.
While the guards were having their respective issues for portions of the game, Jordan Murphy, a man who doesn’t have Big Ten level offensive talent, had himself a night Minnesota fans won’t soon forget. While his numbers may have been aided by the game’s extra length, Murphy still finished with an eye-popping stat line of 25 points (on 10-13 shooting from the field and 5-7 from the free throw line), 19 rebounds, 4 blocks, and an assist and steal added on for good measure. He was an absolute beast on the defensive and offensive glass, played within his role of the offense and was essential in defending the paint.
Speaking of paint defense, Reggie Lynch also played a key role in slowing the Hawkeye interior attack with 6 blocks and 12 rebounds. While he had a poor day offensively, going 1-9 from the field, he was essential in swinging several key possessions in the Gophers’ favor. Combine the defensive prowess of Murphy and Lynch with Springs five three-pointers and Nate Mason’s ability to drive and convert during the later stages of regulation and in both overtimes and Minnesota found a winning formula against an Iowa squad coming in with a three-game winning streak.
Speaking of the Hawkeyes, holy cow was Peter Jok unreal in the second half. After being held in check due to a combination of time on the bench and some decent defense by Minnesota, Jok was an offensive force in the second half. Through a combination of impossibly tough shots and his perfect conversion rate at the free throw line (9-9), the Iowa forward finished the game with 28 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists. To the Gophers’ credit, he finished 8-20 from the field but he was unstoppable at times after coming off of double screens or using the pick and roll to supply Iowa big men with easy buckets.
I’ll be honest, dear reader, and say that I was extremely frustrated (well, more like infuriated) and highly skeptical of any Gopher chance in this game after Hawkeye forward Nicholas Baer made a dunk (missed the subsequent and-one free throw) to put Iowa ahead by two with 46 seconds left in regulation. It just seemed like this game would turn into another squandered opportunity and even moreso when Springs inexplicable tried to drive against two men and lost the ball to Iowa. But credit Jordan Murphy and Springs for tying up guard Brady Ellingson in the corner, drawing a jump ball, and getting possession back with 22 seconds left on the clock.
Then Mason finally decided he was not going to let another close opportunity slip through the fingers of the Gophers. He made a fantastic driving layup, Minnesota staved off the Iowa attempt at the other end with some excellent ball-denial as it pertained to Jok. The Gophers staved off another Hawkeye attack at the end of the first overtime after losing Lynch to fouling out, losing a four-point lead that they briefly held during the first extra period, and committing a shot-clock violation on offense with four seconds left. Baer’s heave from a few feet back of the three point line was short and the game headed into its second extra session.
Murphy, ever the work horse in this game, scored on another offensive rebound on Minnesota’s first possession of the second overtime, Coffey made a slashing drive to the basket for a short jumper, and immediately followed it up with a spectacular dunk in transition after a steal and the Gophers took a lead the Hawkeyes wouldn’t threaten again. Their denial of Peter Jok held tight in the second overtime and the Gophers would finally ice the game from the free throw line via Mason, Coffey, and Eric Curry.
- Murphy was spectacular. Granted, Iowa’s frontcourt isn’t full of Haases and Happs and Bridgeses of the conference but putting up the stats he put up in Big Ten game deserves the highest recognition.
- Springs continues to be a spark when everything else isn’t working. He nailed some three pointers early in the game to get the juices flowing and faded later on but he was essential in defending Jok at times during the second half and the overtime sessions.
- Mason took control of the offense when the Gophers’ needed him most. He identified mismatches and took the ball to the basket when he knew he could beat his man off the dribble. The layup he made to tie the game at the end of regulation was most excellent.
- Minus Springs, who had four, all Gophers who played 30 plus minutes only had one turnover or less. That was crucial for most of the game.
- Minnesota now stands at 5-6 in conference play and 17-7 overall. They are currently 7th in the Big Ten (via tiebreakers). They have an RPI of 21 (11th in SOS) and a KenPom ranking of 38 (41st in SOS). The metrics are all on the up-and-up and the tournament resume, for now, has no dark marks.
The Gophers now have a winning streak on their hands and hope to continue the good vibes as they travel to Rutgers on Saturday for an early tip-off at 11 CST (ESPNU). The Scarlet Knights are the Big Ten’s worst team but their recent run of play, including winning at Penn State, something the Gophers failed to do, suggests that this game will be a battle from the tip.